LONDON, Jan 18, (Agencies): Muslim women who fail to learn English to a high enough standard could face deportation from Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Monday. He also suggested that poor English skills can leave people “more susceptible” to the messages of groups like Islamic State (IS). Cameron’s comments came as his centre-right Conservatives launched a £20 million ($28.5 million, 26 million euro) language fund for women in isolated communities as part of a drive to build community integration. Immigration rules already force spouses to speak English before they come to Britain to live with their partners. But Cameron said they would also face further tests after two and a half years in the country to make sure their language skills were improving. “You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language,” he told BBC radio. “People coming to our country, they have responsibilities too.” Cameron’s government estimates that around 190,000 Muslim women in England — about 22 percent — speak little or no English.
There are estimated to be around 2.7 million Muslims in England out of a total population of some 53 million. Cameron said that a lack of language skills could make Muslims in Britain more vulnerable to the message of extremist groups. “I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not,” he told BBC radio. “But if you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message.” His comments drew criticism from Muslim groups and opposition parties. Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, which campaigns for better community relations, accused Cameron of “disgraceful stereotyping”. “David Cameron and his Conservative government are once again using British Muslims as a political football to score cheap points to appear tough,” he added.
And Andy Burnham, home affairs spokesman for the main opposition Labour party, accused Cameron of a “clumsy and simplistic approach” which was “unfairly stigmatising a whole community.” Cameron says Muslim women must improve their English to better integrate into British society, and suggested some migrants could be deported if they fail to speak the language.
“At the moment, someone can move here with very basic English and there’s no requirement to improve it over time. We will change that,” Cameron wrote in a commentary in the Times. “We will now say: if you don’t improve your fluency, that could affect your ability to stay in the UK. This will help make it clear to those men who stop their partners from integrating that there are consequences.” Muslim groups reacted sharply to the proposal, describing the plan as a blunt instrument leveled at their expense and focusing on the extremist minority rather than the peaceful majority.
The program aimed at women is meant to end what Cameron called the “passive tolerance” of discriminatory practices and to challenge the “backward attitudes” of a minority of men. Some 190,000 Muslim women in England speak little or no English.
Though Cameron acknowledged that problems of forced gender segregation and social isolation are not unique to Muslim communities, he did not mention other groups. Cameron’s proposal reflects the challenge the country’s leaders face in trying to defuse the appeal that the Islamic State group holds for many young Britons. Some 800 British citizens have managed to enter Syria in the last four years while another 600 have been caught trying to get there. Parents who are unable to speak English have less of a chance of preventing radicalization of their children, Cameron argued. Muslim groups protested that they were being singled out. “The best way to confront (terrorism) it is to build support within Muslims and support the work done across the country, and not lashing out and denigrating Muslims,” said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation. “The irony of the prime minister calling for more resources to help migrants learn English when his government cut the funding for English classes in 2011 has not been lost on many people.” Cameron linked the issue to extremism, saying separate development helped prompt the search for something to belong to among second-generation immigrants. He said Muslim women were reporting “an alarming picture of forced gender segregation, discrimination and social isolation from mainstream British life”.
“We must take on the minority of men who perpetuate these backward attitudes and exert such damaging control over their wives, sisters and daughters. And we must never again allow passive tolerance to prevent us from telling the hard truths.” The prime minister said British society needed to be “more assertive about our liberal values, clearer about the expectations we place on those who come to live here and build our country together, and more creative and generous in the work we do to break down barriers”. He said it was up to migrants to improve their English language skills if they wanted extend their stay in Britain or apply for citizenship. “We will now say: if you don’t improve your fluency, that could affect your ability to stay in the UK. This will help make it clear to those men who stop their partners from integrating that there are consequences.”